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IBM Supercomputer Helps U.S. Government Identify Objects in Space

With Powerful SP System, the Air Force Can See Everything From Spacecraft to Space Junk

SOMERS, NY - 22 Nov 2000: -- IBM announced today that the Maui High Performance Computing Center (MHPCC) has selected a powerful IBM SP supercomputer to identify objects in space, including old satellites, foreign spacecraft, and unidentified objects. Installed at the MHPCC, the IBM SP assembles photos of objects tracked by Air Force telescopes, helping to ensure the nation's defense, as well as the safety of NASA space flights.

The new IBM supercomputer can process 480 billion calculations per second. One of the most powerful machines in the Department of Defense Research and Development computing arsenal, it is 40 times faster than the IBM "Deep Blue" supercomputer that defeated chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

Air Force Space Surveillance

The IBM SP supercomputer is the electronic brain that supports the Air Force's Maui Space Surveillance System (MSSS). The MSSS locates, tracks, and images satellites using ground based telescopes. The images are then digitally enhanced by the IBM SP supercomputer. With its tremendous processing capability, the IBM SP uses complex algorithms to improve images significantly in only three to five seconds. Objects photographed might include errant communications satellites and space junk, as well as spacecraft launched by nations other than
the United States.

An Eye on the Sky

The dramatic improvement in image quality produced by the IBM SP supercomputer allows the government to identify space objects. In addition, close-up images of damaged spacecraft assist the government in determining the extent of the damage.

An earlier version of the IBM supercomputer at MHPCC played a key role in the space shuttle Discovery flight that carried U.S. Senator John Glenn. NASA officials, concerned that the shuttle's tail might have been damaged during liftoff, needed to inspect the rear section of the Discovery before the ship was allowed to land. The IBM SP supercomputer was called into action, producing images of the spacecraft's tail assembly that showed it had only sustained minor damage.

The earlier supercomputer was used to construct photographs of some of the nearly 9,000 objects currently orbiting the planet. Objects in orbit include a wide variety of satellites, as well as a space glove and a screwdriver inadvertently left behind during previous manned spaceflight missions.

Copper Microprocessors

The new Maui supercomputer achieves a peak processing capability of 480 billion calculations per second by harnessing the computing power of 320 IBM POWER3-II microprocessors, 224 gigabytes of memory and 2.9 terabytes of IBM disk.

The microprocessors are based on IBM's revolutionary copper technology. Microprocessors built with copper provide superior performance to those that contain traditional aluminum because copper is a better electrical conductor than aluminum.

"This latest acquisition enables MHPCC to provide DoD researchers with the newest high performance computing technology to support their requirements," said Gene Bal, director of MHPCC. "MHPCC is well positioned to take a leadership role in providing high performance computing technology to Hawaii-based DoD organizations, as well as to the DoD community at
large."

"There is an increasing need for quick turn-round times for Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) activities by DoD researchers," said Cray Henry, Director of the DoD High Performance Computing Modernization Program. "The additional capability and increased performance to be deployed at MHPCC will provide DoD Challenge Projects, our most demanding and highest priority computational projects, with the ability to solve whole new classes of problems and provide much improved turnaround times."

Today's announcement illustrates IBM's growing leadership in the supercomputing market. According to the TOP500 Supercomputer List*, IBM systems account for 215 of the world's 500 most powerful high performance computers -- more than any other vendor. The list was published on November 3 by supercomputing experts Jack Dongarra from the University of Tennessee and Erich Strohmaier and Hans Meuer of the University of Mannheim (Germany).

"The IBM SP supercomputer system at the Maui High Performance Computing Center demonstrates clearly that IBM's SP supercomputer is pushing the boundaries of computing," said Mike Kerr, vice president of products, IBM Web Server unit. "The IBM SP supercomputer's unmatched performance and scalability enable it to tackle even the most difficult scientific and technical challenges."

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Contact(s) information

John Buscemi
IBM
914-766-3197
jbuscemi@us.ibm.com

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